On 19th of November, refugees in Harmanli have gone on a hunger strike in the „closed type“ camp of Harmanli, among them more than 100 people, including children. Refugees tried to prevent a truck to enter the camp. Several refugees in Busmantsi and Lyubimets are striking with them. They are protesting against the miserable conditions, the lack of information and strained relation with security guards and dilapidated equipment. The camp was built for 450 people, but as of now more than 1200 inhabit it – according to the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) 1296 people are living there, but many more are still waiting to be registered. Many of the refugees are living in tents now. The filthy three toilets and eight showers are definitely not enough. The people there say that you can only get out of the camp if you have some money, the refugees suffering from the cold.
In 2012, the Bulgarian lawyer Valeria Ilareva stated that Bulgaria is sending asylum seekers to Greece without registering them as subjects that have sought protection. On the 11th of November, 2013, Bulgaria „closed the border“ to Turkey by sending 1166 policemen at the border. In a statement, the authorities explained that in 24 hours 97 “illegal immigrants” have been prevented to enter the territory of the country and have been sent back to the Turkish border police. The group was stopped in the Strandzha mountains, the prevention of crossing over happens at the so-called „green border“. This could be considered a violation of the Non-Refoulement principle, yet no sanctions have followed. In the coming days 300 more police officers will be deployed at the border with all-terrain-vehicles and trained dogs. The UNHCR warned Bulgaria about this treating of the, mostly, Syrian refugees and is searching more information about these incidents. Meanwhile the construction of the border fence, that is 30 km long, goes further.
In Sofia, in the three shelters Ovcha Kupel, Voenna Rampa and Vrazhdebna, there are more than 2000 refugees now. Some places are in a very bad condition, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) said, one could find fleas, lice and worms. There is already a health risk of hepatitis and dysentery. The Bulgarian National Television (BNT) reports, that there are already diseases spreading, like for instance tuberculosis. The mayor of Sofia said, there are deplorable conditions in the camps – as a lack of heating, vacancies, food and space – 30 people have to share one room. The interior minister claimed, that he won’t accept any more refugees in the city.
While the European Commission (EC) is discussing if financial aid is to be relocated to Bulgaria in order to cover the growing expenses connected to the refugees fleeing into the country, the numbers of people that are crossing the border (usually the Turkish-Bulgarian border) is increasing enormously with each day. In the beginning of October 2013, the head of the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) was dismissed from his job. Among other things, he was accused for the overloading of the refugee camps and the incapability of the institution to cope with the increased number of asylum-seekers.
A 58-year-old Syrian woman who had become ill in the „Reception Center“ in Sofia/Ovcha Kupel had to wait more than 30 minutes for the ambulance. Her son managed it to got to hospital with her by a private car. The woman died in Sofia’s Pirogov emergency hospital. The incident triggered tension, refugees called on the police by themselves to investigate the case. Few times later, Police teams arrived at the „Reception Center“. A spokesperson from the UNCHR said, that the centers, operated by the government, are „overcrowded and the conditions are unsafe and dire“. The State Agency for Refugees (SAR) made a press release about the incident.
Refugees, who stayed this year in the ‚closed camp‘ Lyubimetz said, that they have been beaten by camp officials. The situation in the camp is like a prison, stated a member of the UNHCR – the same goes for the Detention Center in Busmantsi. 2013 several hunger strikes were declared in these centers in June, August and September.